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Business leaders come together to discuss commercial logic for action on environment

last modified Apr 30, 2015 12:45 PM
3 March 2015 – Senior decision-makers from 20 leading international companies including Mars, Nestlé and Olam have met to discuss the need to build commercial logic for business to protect the environment at scale.


The attendees were convened by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) Natural Capital Leaders Platform, which is working to highlight commercial opportunities from investing in 'natural capital' – nature’s goods and services that underpin global supply chains. These include reduced costs, revenue generation and security of supply, in addition to enhanced brand reputation.

Speaking at the event at The Royal Society in London, José Lopez, Vice President of Nestlé S.A. and Chair of the Natural Capital Leaders Platform, put Nestlé's success partly down to having sustainability embedded across its operations. "We can create great value for our shareholders while at the same time creating great value for society and nature", he said, urging business leaders to invest in nature according to what they take out. "Society expects from us that we show continuous improvement." 

Barry Parkin, Chief Sustainability Officer at Mars Incorporated, highlighted that the business case for investment in nature’s capital was threefold: reputational, economic and ethical, and that environmental and social measures went hand-in-hand. He added that the return on investment provided a win-win-win for the company, smallholder farmers and the planet. "We can achieve change at scale through existing return on investment approaches but will need to be more innovative and do more for full success."

Chris Brett, Global Head of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at Olam International, said the company annually releases billions of bees in the US and Australia to help pollinate its almond plantations, at a cost of $9.7 million per year. This has led to a change of farming practices to improve biodiversity management and ensure a healthy bee environment is achieved. He urged companies to take a long-term approach to managing natural capital, and said that the flow of data and information is vital, since investors wanted to know what kind of environmental footprint they are taking on. "How to do meaningful accounting of natural capital is our priority – and to make it meaningful it needs to have financial value." 

A recent report by CISL shows that pressures such as climate change, increasing population growth and changing consumption patterns are putting natural capital at threat – posing serious financial risks for business. The report highlights the work being done to counter these threats by companies on the Natural Capital Leaders Platform, and calls for further action from the whole of the business community. 

CISL recognises that water, biodiversity and soil know no geographical limits, and is bringing together companies to take a more collaborative approach to protecting the environment in order to achieve change at scale. The Natural Capital Leaders Platform is inviting companies to work with academics and business peers to identify new commercial opportunities from 'doing business with nature'.

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Gemma Cranston

Dr Gemma Cranston, Director, Natural Capital

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